The zombie apocalypse trope is on its last set of rotting legs in my humble opinion. It seems every other book on the shelf is about zombies and we are running out of things for them to do. We have seen zombies altering history, steampunk zombies, zombies in classic literature, hell, even zombies in love. At first I embraced this phenomenon wholeheartedly, but I have just been so overloaded with the walking dead I can’t even work up a good fear of them as I did in my youth. So, it was with some trepidation I decided to purchase a copy of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.
I was intrigued by this book a while back when I read a review of it on SF Signal and learned that it was written in part as a reaction to Marvel Zombies. For those who don’t know, Marvel Zombies mostly takes place in an alternate Marvel universe where a zombie virus has spread through the superhumans, turning them into flesh-eating monsters who maintain their intelligence and abilities. Despite its horror setting, it is a supremely funny comic series and features the work of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. Nevertheless, it is a depressing series, so I was curious to see what Clines did differently, but it wasn’t until recently I felt I had the time to devote to a new book.
Ex-Heroes is set in a world where superheroes are still a new occurrence. Unlike many of the supers in Martin’s Wild Cards series, most of the people who develop powers immediately set about creating secret identities and fighting crimes. Power wise they are weaker than classic comic heroes, but still strong enough to do some damage. Shortly after the appearance of these heroes, a zombie virus appears, first in Los Angeles and then spreading across the world. A small group of heroes fortify the Paramount studios in Hollywood to defend a couple thousand survivors in the City of Angels. They are “ex-heroes” indeed, as they, mainly police the survivors, scavenge through the city or otherwise use their powers to make life easier for the remnant of humanity left in their care. A new threat, however, is threatening their control over the city and they have powers then dwarf even that of the heroes.
The book is set in our universe with references to real-life celebrities and quotes from pop culture. Even the word “zombie” is used occasionally to describe the reanimated dead (who resemble the classic Romero type except they don’t moan and the virus isn’t technically lethal), but generally the shambling corpses are called “exes” by the survivors. There are even several characters seen in flashbacks during the worst of the collapse who still refused to recognize them as zombies. I’m not sure if this was an intentional ploy by Clines as a way of showing how humans will refuse to accept the worst even as it gnaws on their thigh, or just another misuse of a common zombie trope.
Although I found the book to be an entertaining read and Clines did a good job portraying how superheroes would react to a zombie apocalypse, my critical eye couldn’t help but catch several issues. It was hard to differentiate the few regular humans who had lines in the book. Point of view often changed dramatically mid-chapter making it hard to figure out where characters were in relationship to each other. The audience stand-in characters were also more annoying then helpful and left me wondering how they survived this long. The author also tended to use the same descriptive words time and time again, which was a tad irritating (I know I do the same things, so don’t go pointing it out, I’m working on it).
Nevertheless, as I said before, Ex-Heroes was an entertaining read. It kept me wanting to finish it and isn’t that enough for any book to garner a recommendation? Part of my problem is, like I mentioned before, that I am just so burnt out on zombies that although their are sequels that are getting good reviews, I sadly don’t have interest to follow up with Clines universe. Perhaps with time I might think back fondly of Ex-Heroes and continue on with the series, but for now I can only recommend that you read at your own risk.